Is it ADHD or normal kid behavior?

November 11, 2016 | by Fatima Ali, M.D.

Many kids can’t sit still, refuse to wait their turn or have trouble listening. You may think it’s kids just being kids. Sometimes it is. Other times, it’s naughty behavior or even poor parenting. But how do you know if it’s something else, like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

The National Institute of Mental Health defines ADHD as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. It is one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood, occurring in about 4 - 12 percent of school-aged children.

Children with ADHD find it difficult to control their behavior and/or pay attention. They may act without thinking or have trouble focusing. This can cause problems at home, school and with peers, affecting your child’s ability to learn and get along with others.  

Unfortunately, ADHD symptoms are often mistaken for emotional or disciplinary problems. As a result, children with ADHD may be labeled as unmotivated, or “bad kids.” This is far from the truth. ADHD is a brain disorder, and children aren't “misbehaving” on purpose.

So how can you tell if it’s ADHD or normal kid behavior? It can be difficult to distinguish between the two. A diagnosis of ADHD usually involves a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity. Children may exhibit these signs over a long period of time:


  • Trouble staying focused, easily distracted, gets lost in thought
  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to
  • Problems finishing tasks, gets sidetracked
  • Trouble staying organized
  • Difficulty following instructions, makes careless mistakes
  • Often loses or misplaces things, forgetful


  • Constantly fidgets, squirms, can’t sit still
  • Trouble remaining seated
  • Runs or climbs excessively, constantly in motion
  • Talks nonstop, blurts out answers, interrupts others
  • Difficulty waiting for his/her turn
  • Quick temper or short fuse

All children are going to show some of these behaviors from time to time. But for children with ADHD, the behaviors are so severe and persistent (lasting more than 6 months) that they interfere with life.

Most children with ADHD have the combined type, but some may have inattention only or vice versa. Also, many children with ADHD have at least one coexisting condition, including an emotional or behavioral disorder (anxiety, oppositional defiance, etc.) or a developmental disorder.

If left untreated, ADHD can cause lifelong problems. The only way to know for sure if your child has ADHD is to get a comprehensive evaluation from a health professional, starting with your child’s pediatrician.

As a parent, having a child with ADHD can be incredibly exhausting and challenging to deal with. The good news is that it is treatable, and children can grow up to lead happy and healthy lives.

Here’s how you, as a parent, can help:

  • Stick to a schedule – Children with ADHD need structure. Keep a consistent daily routine, including times for homework and activities. Keep the schedule on the refrigerator.
  • Stay organized – Keep everyday items organized in the same place, including clothes, school materials/backpacks and toys.
  • Be clear and consistent Children with ADHD need clear and consistent rules to follow so they know what you expect of them. Make the rules simple and follow through with them.
  • Provide a healthy diet – Help your child eat right, as diet can affect ADHD symptoms. Schedule regular healthy meals or snacks and cut back on junk foods.
  • Promote exercise and sleep – High-energy kids need to move a lot, so get moving with them. Also, ensure your child gets enough shut eye as quality sleep can reduce ADHD symptoms.
  • Encourage and reward – Look for good behavior and praise it. Provide rewards when rules are followed, and give consequences when they aren’t.
  • Try mindfulness or meditation – This is good for anyone, and can help improve your child’s focus and concentration, and help them regain control over their behaviors.

Like all of us, children with ADHD need support, encouragement and love. And when ADHD is properly addressed, children can thrive. You’ll be amazed at how those ADHD traits can reveal themselves in positive ways — through creativity, enthusiasm, energy and drive.

Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.


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